Author: Tim Irwin

Publisher: Nelson Publishers, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-1595552747, 240 pages

When Fortune 100 executives lose their jobs over spectacular errors of judgment or behavior, it’s always their innate nature that leads them astray. Dynamic, forceful, ambitious executives have no monopoly on blindness about their darker urges, but if you want to achieve success under stress and manifest your goals, you must look inside yourself and be honest about what you see. Leadership guru Tim Irwin dissects six larger-than-life executives who derailed and explains what you can learn from each of them, and from all of them. His easy, readable, compassionate tone conceals the profundity of his insights, but he delivers his message. getAbstract highly recommends this unique combination of business history, social critique and worthy self-help. Honestly answering the questions the author raises can help anyone avoid derailing.

Spectacular “derailments”

When new top managers arrive, everyone expects wonderful things­–an easy succession, a brilliant turnaround, careful nurturing of the status quo and so on. But even the best intentions can go horribly wrong. Studying the failure of talented, successful businesspeople reveals a lot about corporate morality–and about ordinary people. None of the executives discussed here as examples of derailment engaged in criminal behavior. They simply allowed their darker aspects to dominate their decision making. They fell off the tracks due to the same cause that can derail anyone, including successful leaders: “a failure of character.”  Derailment means a leader has “gone off the rails,” diverting so far from the company’s goals that he or she has to leave the organization. Derailment extracts a heavy financial or cultural price. A firm can underperform and suffer serious losses. Or the leader can steer the firm away from its “values and culture.” In the worst cases, companies lose both their profits and their culture.


Owning the dark side

Your personality has many aspects. To view it with clarity, you “must sometimes look into the darkness.” You need to understand even the facets of yourself that you hide. Otherwise, the darker side can emerge in a crisis and push you toward self-destruction. Anyone can derail. The leaders chronicled here demonstrate that “those more likely to stay out of trouble remind themselves of their own vulnerability.” Your weaknesses can undo you, and a strength can quickly manifest as a weakness as well. The aspects of personality that people often conceal emerge in the crucibles of stress and power, revealing their true nature.


The derailed

These six famed leaders who derailed demonstrate lessons about character:

Robert Nardelli: Although he soared at General Electric, Nardelli was stunned when he learned he’d never become its CEO. The day he got that news, Home Depot’s board invited him to become the chain’s CEO. Home Depot ran a “decentralized $46 billion company.” Its founders believed in continual expansion and trusted their employees’ judgment. Insiders were shocked when the board hired someone from another company as CEO. Nardelli instantly centralized the firm and increased his control. He cut himself off in his 22nd-floor office. “People worked in constant twofold fear: of failure and of job loss.” Nardelli made himself more important than Home Depot. A fall from that height was inevitable. When his arrogance caused his firing, staffers high-fived in the hallways…

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